Sulphur What?

For various reasons I’m a bit behind with posts at the moment and trying to catch up!  The fact that this is a long-ish post doesn’t really help.  Monday June 24th was the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino, the climax of the Second War of Italian Independence and an event which led to the founding of the International Red Cross organisation and the drawing up of the Geneva Convention.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the war was fought between the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and France on one side and the Austrian Empire on the other.

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Since I already had an Austrian army in 20mm scale, and the first units of my French army for the Franco-Prussian War, I thought it was maybe worth having a go at wargaming the battle on its anniversary.  I made that decision near the beginning of the year though and I knew I didn’t have enough troops ready to have a decent game.  Those of you following my blog recently will probably now realise why some of the posts have included French Turcos and chasseurs, Sardinian infantry (I did call them Piedmontese, but Sardinian seems to be the term more often used – please don’t confuse them with the small fish you buy in tins) and, finally, a mad panic to make a couple of Italian buildings!

Since there wasn’t an opportunity to arrange for an opponent for this game I decided to play it myself – I’d thought about asking my wife to take charge of the French while I managed the Austrians, but that would just have led to a complete and utter Austrian defeat in less than an hour, so I didn’t bother with that option!  I set the game up on Sunday 23rd June and played a couple of moves and finished it off on Monday 24th June, the actual anniversary of the battle.  The rules were the “Wargaming 19th Century Europe” set by Neil Thomas and, since doing my Paraguayan War armies last year, I had enough unit bases for all of the troops I used.  I’ve recently tweaked these rules to add in HQ, supply and rocket units (the Austrians used rocket batteries) so I was keen to see how everything worked.

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The Austrians (shown above) were mainly 1:72 plastics from Waterloo 1815, with dragoons by Irregular Miniatures and artillery limbers converted from Newline Design American Civil War items.  There were six infantry battalions, one dragoon regiment, two gun batteries and a rocket battery.  All of these were rated as “regular”, the infantry armed with muzzle-loading rifles and the artillery with smoothbore weapons.

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The French (shown above) were a bit of a mixed bag collected over the years, firstly for gaming the Boxer Rebellion, then the Sino-French War of 1883-85 and now in the process of being fleshed out for the Franco-Prussian War.  Figures are a mix of plastic and metal.  The core of the force were three tirailleur algérien battalions (commonly called Turcos), with an added chasseurs à pied battalion and backed up by two artillery batteries and a regiment of mounted chasseurs d’Afrique.  The infantry were armed with muzzle-loading rifles and the artillery with bronze rifled muzzle-loaders (the latter proving to be much more capable than the Austrian smoothbore artillery).  All were rated as “elite” and both infantry and cavalry were permitted to charge enemy units even if they were outnumbered (representing the elan of these units and their willingness to close with bayonet and sabre).  A token Sardinian force was provided by a line infantry battalion, rated as “elite” but armed with smoothbore muskets – these were at a disadvantage in a firefight against the Austrians but had better morale.  The French also had a single HQ element, which allowed units in close proximity to move further and gain close combat and morale benefits.

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I laid the battlefield out on a 6 feet x 4 feet table, leaving it reasonably open to allow units to move around.  Using these rules, woods, buildings and roads all have effects on movement and combat, but the other scenery scattered about is there just for show (the trees mounted on larger bases of broken ground count as woods – the trees can just be lifted off to let troops move through them, leaving the bases to show that units are in woods).  In the picture shown above, the Austrians held the villa at the top right at the start of the game, with the French and Sardinians advancing from the right in force.  The more numerous Austrian forces arrived piecemeal throughout the game from the left of the picture.

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The French started off by making a rapid advance and assault on the villa, forcing out the Austrian defenders and then picking off the survivors (the photo above shows the French in the process of launching their attack on the villa.  The picture below shows the Austrians just after they’d been ejected from the villa).

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The Sardinians covered the left flank and the chasseurs d’Afrique the right.  The Austrian response was a bit slow, with only their dragoons infiltrating through the woods on the French right and starting a firefight with one of the Turco battalions (it turns out dragoons shouldn’t enter woods according to the rules, but I’d forgotten that and it didn’t really make any difference anyway).

 

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At this point I’d normally have let the French consolidate their position and fend off any Austrian attacks with artillery, but that would just have ended up as a slogging match!  So I opted to adopt French aggressive infantry tactics and attack (see above picture, French advancing from the right), and that was a big change to my more usual Austrian defensive mindset!  The idea was that the better allied morale should carry them through against the slightly more numerous Austrians gradually arriving on the battlefield.  While a Turco battalion and the chasseurs d’Afrique held the right flank, Turcos, chasseurs à pied and the Sardinians charged up the centre, supported by artillery and spurred on by the French command element.  The Sardinians ejected the Austrian infantry from the wood in the centre, the Austrians breaking and running while their artillery was forced to unlimber and come into action in an attempt to halt the French.

 

At this point the Austrians managed to bring some of their infantry into action and, after a bitter struggle the Sardinians gave way and routed.  Although the chasseurs à pied eliminated one of the artillery batteries, the Turco battalion supporting them was charged in the flank by an Austrian assault column and smashed!  Things started to get messy at this point, the French command element coming under fire and having to order the chasseurs d’Afrique into a charge that stabilised the position (but at the loss of the cavalry unit).

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By this time both armies were battered and decided to break off the action (in the real battle a massive thunderstorm forced an end to the action, which was a bit spooky because in 2019 we were also having some heavy rain that evening)!  The wargame Austrians had more strength but the French still had their artillery so it was probably quite difficult to work out how it might have gone if it had continued.

I very rarely play a wargame on my own but I enjoyed this, particularly because I left the game up overnight and managed two evenings worth of combat.  The rules are simple but seem to give the right feel to combat – you have to carefully soften up targets with artillery before charging home with infantry, and cavalry should only be used as a last resort to plug gaps!  Although I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do on my French and Prussian armies for the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian War next year, I’m quite looking forward to trying to get some more 19th Century games in.  In fact, I’ve added some rules tweaks and new units to let me try out these rules for Boxer Rebellion games – that now means I need to catch up with getting some figures ready for that and it’s just a complete coincidence that next year marks the 120th anniversary of that conflict!  Honest!

 

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26 comments

  1. I am not a gamer John as you know buy I do enjoy your write ups and in particular the historical bits and bobs that you throw in along the way and I will look forward to more to come. I do think you should have at least said you played against your wife even if untrue, playing with yourself doesn’t sound to good particulalry as some might make a link to your eye infection! 😉 I aslo like the images of your very orderly storage system, a man after my own heart!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Dave! Good point about playing the game against my wife – you’ve now no doubt prompted IRO to make some sort of comment! 🙂 And that wasn’t quite the figures as they’re stored, it was just convenient to put them on their bases and then onto the box lids to move them!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Interesting John like Dave I’m not a gamer but I’m always interested in what you all do and particularly the figures used ,I did war games long ago and found them fun and I did play with myself a few times (yes Dave but not as often as you did I bet ) sorry John but he is always listening you know ,and I am surprised his mate IRO hasn’t jumped in yet .
    I’ll be interested in the figures you use for the Boxer rebellion as I’m interested in this show .As for the tidy, I’m the opposite ,just call me Mr bloody messy !

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Pat! TIM and IRO always leave their share of the comments and everyone’s are welcome!
      I started 20mm/1:72 Boxer Rebellion in 1996 (!) because Kennington Miniatures (now SHQ) brought out a range of metal figures, although I had to mix and match some ESCI Zulu War Brits in as French colonial infantry. Orion do a nice set of Boxers in plastic in 1:72 that also includes some Chinese regular troops. Red Box do loads of plastics (check theirs out on the Plastic Soldier Review) although they are maybe a bit rough and ready. Otherwise I’ve used Airfix WW1 US infantry with the hats trimmed as US infantry and IT Miniatures metal WW1 Russians as Boxer Rebellion Russians. It’s harder getting Chinese figures, but I use Britannia Miniatures (now Grubby Tanks) Viet Cong as semi-regular Chinese troops.
      Since I’m going to be adding Boxer Rebellion figures to my units over the next year I’ll try and do blog posts for each of the national forces I’ve got as I add the new figures.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks John, that interesting that you used the Airfix WWI guys, t must have been an intricate and challenging job they are pretty small and fine.
        I have used the PSR for some years and they are a tremendous help but there is only so much you can tell from there photos and so I really like to see them live .Funnily enough I ran into a fellow dioramarist in the model shop and we agreed on the fact that when in the UK load up on 1/72 figures as they are so cheap ,my method has been to cut them of the sprues and put them in my spare shoes ,he just chucks away the boxes ,ha ha ,we both wondered what the customs guys thought when x-raying our cases !
        You are right about Red Box figures, which is a shame as there is a limit on what I can hide on my more crowded shows ,having said that I’m a great fan of Strelets and some would say the same about them .
        Anyway I’m making the most of our winter and painting like fury getting ready for the spring offensive, I hope to produce a couple this summer ,Cheers mate, I trust you are enjoying your warm weather .

        Liked by 2 people

      • I just love the fact that you fill your shoes with plastic figures to get them home! I didn’t mention it in this post, but a reasonable proportion of the Turcos are Strelets Zoauves! Weather here has been nice, but paint dries a bit too quick for me at the moment, so I’m busy preparing all the figures I need to get on with over the next six months at least!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Your write about the paint drying to quickly in summer ,it’s another reason I try to paint all my figs. In winter and the move into the shed to work on the bases and need the warm weather to dry them out ,all that PVA and plaster needs a fair bit especially if they are undulating ones .When you say Strelets Zouaves Would that be set 33 , if so that’s an amazing number of poses for a set 44/44 Wow !

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, it gets warmer at the caravan than at home, so I virtually never have a problem with the paint drying too fast at home, but it’s nice to take figures to the caravan and paint when I get the chance. At the moment I’m just preparing figures anyway so it’s not really a problem, but I can understand you’ll have to be selective about how you work. The Zouaves were indeed set 033 and one of the early sets where everyone was different. That’s not as good as it sounds though – some were poses that I didn’t like, or weren’t useful, and some figures were wearing turbans, which makes them more suitable as Turcos than Zouaves, especially for 1870 and later. But useful figures nonetheless and I’ve probably used half of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I also end up with these unsuitable figures and store them away thinking I might use them but never do ,I feel someone should open a orphanage for them all so they don’t feel lonely and neglected !

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice write up John, love the history as well as much of the 19th century warring has faded from attention – and my memory of learning about them. I remember there was a struggle to establish Italy as a nation, but the details get fuzzy for me. Really appreciate the work in recreating this battle, you and I share that passion. Looks like it worked out, even as you engaged in autokriegspieling (sounds better doesn’t it?). I like you am behind on blogging activities. No trust fund from anyone one and the Massachusetts State Lottery has not come through so been looking for a job (and some hobby activity and 9 holes now and then). Very nice post as always keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark, glad you liked it! I can remember studying 19th Century history at school, but never in the detail that I look at now, and military history is certainly not as dry! I like autokriegspieling as an expression definitely! Hope the job hunting is successful, but you might as well get some hobboy stuff and golf in in the meantime!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey John – very cool to see these guys you’ve been working so hard on over the past …how long has it been even since I’ve been following your work? Well, it’s great to see them taking the field – even in solo-game form! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Azazel! The French have a very chequered history going back 30 years in all and I’ll probably try and capture that sometime in the next year! Surprisingly, the Austrians got done in one go (well, over six months) in 2016 and I think that was before I started the blog! I think I maybe need to do more solo games, even if it’s just for trying out rules, otherwise I don’t get in as many games as I’d like!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I’m always interested in 19th century conflicts and your fascinating re-fight has piqued my interest in this war (as if I need any more hobby distractions!). I’ve been tempted on occasion with the Waterloo 1815 range, though I know Plastic Soldier Review had a bit of a moan about accuracy.

    I will also be interested in your Boxer Rebellion commemoration. In plastic, I know Red Box did such a comprehensive range it was just a shame that the sculpting wasn’t up to their more impressive recent standards. But then, I do like a challenge and their RMLI figures look tempting… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked, it Marvin! My original assumption was that if I had French, Austrian and Prussian armies I could use them for the French vs Austrians in 1859, Austrians vs Prussians in 1866 and Prussians vs French in 1870. In practice, 1859 Austrians wore white “kittels” and 1866 Austrians wore grey greatcoats, but I’m not letting that stop me and I’m prepared to go with the Waterloo 1815 figures despite the PSR criticisms. The Emhar Prussian and French infantry are excellent and Irregular Miniatures, B & B Miniatures and Hagen Miniatures do metal figures to fill in some gaps.
      I’ve mixed and matched with Boxer Rebellion figures without using any of the Red Box figures, so I’ll try and cover my units in my blog as I get figures added (reckon I’ve got about 30 figures to paint, but they are now based and primed at least). The Orion Boxer Rebellion figures are nice (all Chinese) but most of my Chinese are metal ones by SHQ (the old Kennington Miniatures range which SHQ still do, but hide away somewhere on their site I think).

      Liked by 1 person

      • If I paid too much attention to PSR all the time, I wouldn’t paint half the things I do!

        I’ve read around the era a little in recent years – “1864” on the 2nd Schleswig-Holstien War and on the Franco-Prussian conflict too, so I’m really impressed with your hard work and bringing so much to this era.

        Likewise I’ve been a member of the Victorian Military Society since I was a nipper so the Boxer Rebellion should be right up my street.

        Keep going!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good for you! If I could work out the best figures for an 1864 Danish army I think I’d build one! Have also thought about adding some Federal German forces to my Austrians for 1866 as well, so thank you for your kind comment!

        I went for the Boxer Rebellion because it was a colonial conflict but against an opponent that really did put up a hard fight. Lots of different troop types and colour. There are some decent books on the conflict if you look round, but be very wary of the Osprey Men At Arms title, since it does contain inaccuracies – having said that, the Osprey Peking 1900 Campaign title I thought was quite a good introduction. Getting proper Allied artillery pieces is probably the hardest part.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Marvin! Sometimes 20mm is hard going, other times it’s not, but that’s part of the fun! I used to be firmly wedded to WW2 gaming in my younger years, but now I seem to have gone back a century and found way more to do!

        Liked by 1 person

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